Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams was arrested Thursday in connection with the high-profile 1972 slaying of Jean McConville, a Belfast widow and mother of 10.
Adams presented himself on Wednesday evening for questioning by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) who are investigating the brutal kidnapping, killing and secret burial of McConville, and was subsequently arrested.
The 37-year-old mother of 10 disappeared just before Christmas 1972 – at the height of the Northern Ireland conflict, known as the Troubles – from a west Belfast neighbourhood that was then an IRA powerbase.
McConville, who was kidnapped in front of her children, was wrongly accused by the IRA of being a British spy and informer.
Adams is long believed to have ordered McConville’s killing, an allegation he has denied.
In a statement released shortly before Adams delivered himself to a Belfast police station Wednesday, the Sinn Fein chief said he believed “the killing of Jean McConville and the secret burial of her body was wrong and a grievous injustice to her and her family”.
But he rejected the ''well-publicised, malicious allegations have been made against me,” noting that, “while I have never disassociated myself from the IRA – and I never will – I am innocent of any part in the abduction, killing or burial of Mrs. McConville.''
McConville's family has welcomed Adams’ arrest.
Speaking to the BBC, McConville’s son, Michael, who was 11 when his mother was murdered, said the family was “happy” with the latest development. "Me and the rest of my brothers and sisters are just glad to see the PSNI doing their job. We didn't think it [Adams' arrest] would ever take place, but we are quite glad that it is taking place.”
Adams has been frequently arrested and interrogated in the wake of IRA bombings and shootings in the 1970s and 1980s. But he has never broken or confessed to any of the IRA crimes committed during the Troubles.
The veteran Sinn Fein leader’s response to a number of allegations of involvement in crimes committed during the Troubles has been that he never held any position in the underground army.
Testimonies from the graves
The difference, this time, is that key potential witnesses against Adams have been speaking, on tape, from their graves.
It was a court decision in the US that led to Adam’s latest arrest. In 2001, Boston College commenced a five-year oral history project known as the Belfast Project aimed at documenting perspectives on the Troubles from those involved in the conflict.
The Belfast Project involved the collection of audio interviews with 26 IRA veterans detailing their own and colleagues' careers. They spoke on condition their words be kept secret until their deaths.
One of the critical testimonies, according to historians and writers, has been that of Adams' one-time IRA confidante Brendan Hughes, who died in 2008.
His Boston College interview became the subject of a 2010 book, “Voices From the Grave,'' by Belfast Project coordinator and IRA expert Ed Moloney.
Hughes said he led the IRA team that “arrested” McConville, but her fate was allegedly sealed following a policy argument between Adams and the man who succeeded him as the IRA's Belfast commander, Ivor Bell.
He said Bell wanted McConville's body to be put on public display to intimidate others who might consider helping the British, but Adams wanted her killing kept a mystery, and she was buried in an unmarked grave.
“There was only one man who gave the order for that woman to be executed,'' Hughes said in the audio recording, which was broadcast on British and Irish television in 2010. “That man is now the head of Sinn Fein. I did not give the order to execute that woman. He did.''
Adams and Hughes were arrested together in July 1973, when the British army pounced on an IRA commanders' meeting in West Belfast. Both were interned without trial, the British policy at the time; IRA members did not face criminal trials until 1976.
After a protracted legal wrangle that reached the US Supreme Court, the Northern Ireland police last year received many more of the IRA tapes from Boston College. Last month, they used the taped interviews of Bell to arrest the now 77-year-old and charge him with aiding McConville's killing.
Adams, sensing his own arrest was imminent, announced he would be happy to answer police questions and his lawyers negotiated Wednesday's police appearance.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)
Date created : 2014-05-01